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Monday, November 21, 2011

A great day's Test cricket: South Africa subside then revive as Australia counterattack: T2D4

Australia 296 & 3/142 (37 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 54*) need 168 more runs with 7 wickets in hand to beat South Africa 266 & 339 (110ov, Amla 110, de Villiers 73, Steyn 41, Cummins 6/79): T2/2 D4/5 at Johannesburg.

Australia improved beyond expectations (though not supporters' dreams) for most of the day, although a late (and modest) South African batting revival and the loss of Australia's Usman Khawaja at the end of another day curtailed by poor light have kept the home team in with a good chance of winning.

But the match is far from over. Australia came back into the game as the bowlers regrouped, sending back first AB de Villiers for 73/136b (1x6, 10x4) and, after Ashwell Prince was run out cheaply, Hashim Amla for 105/ 243b (14x4). When Mark Boucher was also dismissed cheaply South Africa, having lost 4/37 in the day's play, were 7/266.
Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, with some shrewd strokeplay and a measure of good fortune then batted through to lunch, taking the total to 7/314.

Pat Cummins struck twice in successive balls immediately after the interval - 9/314 - but Steyn biffed a few more runs before he was caught behind, again off Cummins, for 41/64b (3x6, 2x4).

Cummins finished with 29-5-79-6: easily the best figures of his short first class career, and a reflection of his quality and stamina given the thin atmosphere of Johannesburg.

Australia's chase for 310 began disastrously. They slipped to 2/19  as Vernon Philander bowled Shane Watson for a duck with the second ball of the innings and not long after had Phil Hughes caught in the slips.

Ricky Ponting joined Khawaja, and the pair rebuilt the innings. Khawaja's  was a mature innings. He seemed unfazed by the atmosphere (the small crowd made a lot of noise) and chose his shots carefully until, as the light closed in, he edged Imran Tahir's googly to slip for 65/110b (1x6, 8x4).

At the other end Ponting was playing his innings of the year. He took 10 balls to get off the mark with a single, then played his signature pull shot to the boundary (and kept it down) followed by a sweet cover driven 4 off Steyn, at which point Graeme Smith went on the defensive - man back on the off boundary. I'd seen several of these false starts from him in the last year - a confident stroke or two coupled with resolute defence followed by a cheap dismissal - but today it didn't happen. He moved solidly and determinedly to 54*/104b (6x4) at close of play.

Imran Tahir showed in the first innings that he can befuddle the tailenders, so if Australia are to pull off an unlikely win Ponting will need to continue his hard work and, it goes without saying, receive support from Messrs Clarke, Hussey and, yes, Haddin.

Check out the Fox Sports highlights and reserve your seat by the TV tonight.


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